Noda, Barbara

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NODA, Barbara

NODA, Barbara (b. 14 January 1953), writer.

Barbara Noda was born in Stockton, California, and grew up in the Salinas Valley. A third-generation Japanese American (sansei), Noda was the youngest child and only daughter of nisei (second generation) parents. Her father cultivated strawberries in the Salinas Valley. In her poem, "The Hills around Salinas," Noda describes her experiences growing up in this rural, agricultural region:

As a lonely young girl, growing up in an alien town, I raced down those graveled and dirt roads on a shiny orange bicycle and the wheels turned and turned; like the dreams of a feverish child. (Strawberries, 1979)

Noda's consciousness of race, class, and gender were based on her childhood experiences of witnessing her father's long days in the fields, her mother's role in maintaining an agricultural household economy, and her own experiences as an only daughter of a Japanese American family living in a region predominantly divided between white landowners and Filipino and Mexican laborers. In the same poem, Noda describes her response to these experiences as

   endless hours of writing,
   the same delirious motion to be free.

After graduating from the University of California at Santa Cruz, Noda moved to San Francisco to be a writer. There she contributed to a body of writing, art, and political expression that had emerged out of an era of social ferment and change in the United States.

Noda's poems and writings capture a pivotal time in gay and lesbian, Asian American, and feminist history. The late 1960s and early 1970s marked the emergence of new waves of Asian American, feminist, worker, and LGBT movements nationwide. Greater community consciousness was articulated subsequently in numerous independent publications and journals. Along with other writers, Noda challenged any universal conception of feminists and lesbians. She published her poem "Strawberries" in the spring 1978 issue of Conditions:Three, a journal founded by Elly Bulkin and others that featured writing by women, particularly lesbians, of diverse backgrounds. Noda's book of poetry, Strawberries, was published in 1979 by Shameless Hussy Press, a prominent second wave feminist press. These poems paint lyrical, gentle, and almost nostalgic images of growing up: her father in the fields; her mother writing her a bedtime story; her coming out to her mother. In "Mother and Daughter," Noda writes,

   there is a difference there is a difference
   it has taken years for the shine to come through
   now we both know that mornings for you
   are different for me.

Her poems evoking erotic desire are similarly entwined with evocations of Japanese culture and Asian American identity. In "The Woodblock of My Dreams," Noda writes:

   And then I found her—
   like a geisha flapping to my side
   with a steaming hot cup of tea,
   her smile the smile of smiles
   she giggled and disappeared.
   I chased her in my blue and white yukata
   the stripes rippling through a breeze
   ecstatic—my moans filled me like a mountain.

Together, the poems illustrate the multiple subjectivities that Noda negotiated in her relationships with her parents, lovers, and self. Noda also examined these multiple subjectivities within a three-part conversation between lesbians White, Pink, and Green about monetary success, intimacy and love, drugs, and religion in her experimental play Aw Shucks! (Shigata Ga Nai), which she directed at San Francisco's Asian American Theater Company in May and June 1981. For example, Pink addresses her complex social location as both an ethnic and sexual minority when she talks about being a lesbian daughter of parents who had been interned in a concentration camp (referring to the U.S. government's internment of persons of Japanese descent in 1942). Noda's poetry and fiction were published in numerous anthologies and journals, including the poem "One, Two, Three!" in the inaugural issue of Yellow Silk, a journal dedicated to erotica, in 1981.

In her prose writings, Noda draws upon her experience as a Japanese American lesbian and feminist in addressing the experiences of Asian American women and lesbians within the Asian American community. Noda contributed to two special issues of Bridge: An Asian American Perspective, the winter 1978–1979 and spring 1979 issues, dedicated to Asian American women and edited by Genny Lim and Judy Yung. In the spring 1979 issue, "Coming Out: We Are Here in the Asian American Community: A Dialogue with Three Asian Women" by Barbara Noda, Kitty Tsui, and Zee Wong, addresses the silences within the Asian American community regarding homosexuality and specifically lesbians. Noda called for an Asian American movement inclusive of all members of the community regardless of sexual orientation and gender and for a political awareness that addressed the intersections of gender, race, and sexuality. In the summer of 1980, Noda provided a further critique of Asian American articulations of identity in her review of these issues for Conditions: Six. Identifying herself as "an Asian woman," she addresses the problem of bicultural identity, likening the assumed loss of identity to "being a woman in a male-dominated society" (pp. 203–204). Besides highlighting the diversity among Asian American women, Noda also calls for more attention within the community of Asian American writers to their "Asian roots" across the Pacific, an expression of identity not limited to defensive responses to the dominant society's negative images of Asian Americans. Finally, she says that Asian Americans "do not have to define themselves as feminists or lesbians, but where in their words do they acknowledge whole-heartedly the strength, assertiveness, and success in their lives as women?" (p. 211). This review motivated a spirited response by Nellie Wong in Conditions: Seven, highlighting key issues of debate within the Asian American and feminist communities. In 1983, Noda criticized the internal dynamics of second-wave feminism in her contribution to This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color, called "Lowriding through the Women's Movement." Although she has not published further works of poetry, Noda has written for the New Phoenix Rising about Asian American and Pacific Islander lesbian issues and has continued to be active in the San Francisco Bay area LGBT community.


Noda, Barbara. Strawberries. Oakland, Calif.: Shameless Hussy Press, 1979.

——. Aw Shucks! (Shigata Ga Nai). Unpublished play. Asian American Theater Company Archives, California Ethnic and Multicultural Archives, University of California at Santa Barbara, 1980.

——. Review of "Asian American Women, two special issues of Bridge: An Asian American Perspective (Vol. 6, No. 4, Winter 1978–9; Vol. 7, No. 1, Spring 1979)." Conditions: Six 2, no. 3 (Summer 1980): 203–211.

——. "Response." Conditions: Seven 3, no. 3 (1981): 185.

——. "Lowriding through the Women's Movement." In This Bridge Called My Back: Writings By Radical Women of Color. Edited by Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa. New York: Women of Color Press, 1983.

Noda, Barbara, Kitty Tsui, and Zee Wong. "Coming Out: We Are Here in the Asian American Community: A Dialogue with Three Asian Women." Bridge: An Asian American Perspective 7, no. 1 (Spring 1979): 22–24.

Wong, Nellie. "Asian American Women, Feminism, and Creativity." Conditions: Seven 3, no. 3 (1981) 177–184.

Karen Leong